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Federal royal commission call gets louder

Friday, 6th September, 2019

Kelly McPherson Kelly McPherson

By Craig Brealey

Tens of thousands of city people will this month learn a lot more about the crisis and the “shonky business” in the Murray-Darling Basin when a free, full-colour newspaper appears in their letterbox.

The one-off publication is being put together by Kelly McPherson who was born and raised on a grazing property near Wilcannia, went to school in Broken Hill and now lives in Victoria.

On September 18, “Connecting Our Country” will go to print and 30,000 people in Sydney and Melbourne, and every state and federal politician, will receive a copy.

Ms McPherson, a former newspaper advertising rep, described it as Australia’s first citizen-generated marketing campaign. It will feature stories by local community leaders about the mismanagement of water and land and will urge people to push their local MP to back a royal commission into the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

“Connecting Our Country” is being funded by advertisements and “advertorials”. Among its contributors are the Darling River Action Group and the McBride family of Tolarno Station.

Ms McPherson said the Murray-Darling Basin Plan had destroyed the Darling River and was now wrecking the land and livelihoods of people on the Murray and other rivers as well.

“The Darling? It’s heartbreaking - 1500 kilometres of dirt.”

She now lives in Shepparton on the Goulburn River where fruit and vegetable growers and dairy farmers are being sent broke by the cost of water.

“I left home 18 years ago when I married a Victorian man. We had a beef and sheep farm but sold that seven years ago.

“We had to sell our farm because of the cost of water; it’s ridiculous.

“It just got too hard to pay the water bill every year.” 

The problem is that the government turned water into a tradeable commodity in the Basin in 2007.

This allowed investors from anywhere to buy water, hoard it and create a shortage to force the price up.

Water now costs $600 a megalitre. Family farms can’t pay that much, so they sell their water, which is bought by the often foreign-owned large irrigation companies and investors.

The result has been the destruction of the nation’s food bowl in south-eastern Australia. Instead of food, it is increasingly producing cotton and almonds. 

“Making water a commodity was a big mistake,” Ms McPherson said.

“Apart from the Royal Commission we want a water register because a few politicians are big water holders.”

Yesterday Ms McPherson was in Tocumwal in the NSW Riverina for a large and angry protest rally on the banks of the Murray River.

“You can’t get a park in Tocumwal, it’s chockers,” she said.

“We’re all calling for the same thing, a Royal Commission. It’s the only way to work out where it went wrong.

“If people have to go to jail, well, that’s it. If you or I did what is being done, we’d be in jail.

“There is a whole load of shonky business going on.”

In Tocumwal yesterday, the Murray was “running a banker”, Ms McPherson said, while farmers with no allocation watched the water rushing down the river to wash away the Barmah choke and destroy the land.

“Trees are falling into the river, the red gum forest is flooded. Brumbies and all the native animals like kangaroos and koalas and stranded in the flood.”

Ms McPherson said her paper would be posted to random addresses in Sydney and Melbourne because they were not getting the full story.

“We all know what’s going on but the national news does not cover it well enough for city people, even though this is a national crisis.

“It is not anti-irrigator at all; it’s about water theft, huge amounts of it. 

“The Murray-Darling Basin Plan should be run by the Commonwealth, not the states, because it is in the national interest that we get it right.”

Advertisements for publication in the newspaper are open for another week.

Pledges of cash of any amount were also welcome, Ms McPherson said, because they could allow her to publish and distribute more copies at a later date.

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